Red masa for tamales is made like traditional tamales masa and colored with a mild red chile sauce. My recipe for vegan red masa for tamales is so easy to make and the results are authentic flavorful tamales that are perfect for special occasions, the holidays or whenever you just feel like having vegan homemade tamales!
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Red Masa for Tamales
Tamales are of of the most traditional Mexican dish. Their history dates back to Pre-Hispanic times and it’s hard to imagine Mexican cuisine without them.
Traditionally this masa is used to make savory tamales filled with shredded pork, and these red pork tamales are one of the most popular type of Mexican tamales.
When making red masa the same traditional method in regular masa is used, the only difference is that a mild red chile sauce is added to the dough. This red chili sauce is used to not only turn the tamales masa red but give it additional flavor. It’s quite delicious and a nice way to change things up when making homemade tamales.
Of course the traditional recipe calls for the use of pork lard but being that we are making a 100% vegan tamale masa, we’re not going to be using lard.
Did You Know I Wrote a Tamales Cookbook?
All the recipes are vegan and vegetarian and they’re delicious and full of traditional Mexican flavors. Click the book to check it out.
Vegan Red Tamales Masa Ingredients
As I mentioned earlier, the ingredients for this red masa are pretty much the same as regular white tamale masa.
- Masa: This is the key ingredient and while traditionally fresh masa dough is used, but not everyone has access to it so we’ll be using masa harina in my recipe. Masa harina is dehydrated nixtamalized corn dough.
- Shortening: We’ll be using vegetable shortening instead of pork lard.
- Vegetable Broth: Traditionally chicken broth is used, but of course in this vegan tamale dough we’re using vegetable instead.
- Baking Powder and Salt: This is to make the tamales airy and salt is to flavor, of course.
- Dried Mexican Chiles: We will be using a mix of guajillo chiles, pasilla peppers and chile de arbol. Some people use ancho chiles too.
- Tomato, Onion and Garlic: To make the red chile sauce.
- Seasonings: We’ll be using just salt and ground cumin seeds.
Notes: Make sure to have your favorite filling ready to use as well as soaked corn husks.
Where to Purchase Ingredients
Nowadays you should be able to find all of the ingredients needed for making authentic Mexican tamales in your local grocery store, if not check a Hispanic food store or there’s always Amazon too.
I’ve linked to the Amazon links for you just in case you need them, just remember that I make a small commission off of any purchases.
For the masa harina the most popular brand is Maseca and I like to use their Masa for Tamales product. If you prefer an organic brand many people suggest Bob’s Red Mill masa harina – I have never worked with it though.
The dried chilies you’ll in the spice isle or in the Mexican aisle of your local grocery store. If not you’ll find them near the produce section in a Mexican grocery store.
Vegetable shortening is in the baking isle or ask at your local grocery store.
How to Make Vegan Red Masa for Tamales
Making masa for tamales is so incredibly easy. My most valuable tip I can give to you when making masa for tamales is to not rush it, take your time and you’ll get it just right.
Remember before you make the masa make sure you have the filling ready to go and the corn husks should be soaking in water to soften. Once you’ve got that done then you can move on to the masa.
I used a handheld electric mixer but you could also a stand mixer instead.
Step 1: Place the deseeded and rinsed chiles in a large pot with the onion, garlic and tomatoes. Simmer until the vegetables are soft and the chiles are fully rehydrated and soft and flexible.
Step 2: Add the softened vegetables and chiles to the cup of a blender along with 1 cup of the cooking liquid, salt and cumin. Blend until completely smooth.
Step 3: Place a strainer over a large bowl and strain the blended salsa into it. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Discard any remaining pulp then set salsa aside.
Step 4: Place the vegetable shortening in a large bowl and use the handheld mixer on medium-high speed to whip until light and airy. Or you can also whip the shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Step 5: Add the baking powder, salt, and some masa harina to the bowl. Mix until everything is well combined, use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to prevent uneven mixing.
Step 6: Pour 1 cup of the red chile salsa over the mixed masa mixture in the bowl. Whip until completely combined and stopping to scrape down as needed
Step 7: Little by little begin adding more masa harina and the vegetable broth into the bowl. Mix until you’ve used up all of the masa and it has a texture of thick creamy peanut butter. Depending on where you live you may need to add more or less broth.
Step 8: Once your masa is well combined and looks and feels light and airy you can do the float test. Drop a small dollop into a glass of water. If it floats it’s ready to use and if not continue to mix some more. Don’t add any more broth!
Assembling Your Vegan Red Masa Tamales
Now, it’s time to assemble your tamales!
Using the back of a spoon, or a spatula, spread a couple of Tablespoons of masa onto the corn husk and spread into a thin even layer on the smooth side of the cornhusk. Make sure you’re using the wide end not the narrow end of the corn husk. Then add a heaping tablespoon or more of the filling into the center.
To do the corn husk wrapping: Grab one side of the corn husk and fold it towards the center. Then grab the other side and fold towards the center. The long pointy end of the husk is folded up. Watch my video for a guided visual. Continue until all of the tamales filling is used up.
Now you’re ready to steam your tamales!
Pour in enough water into your tamalera steamer pot to where you see the indicated line. Then place the steaming rack in place. (Some people add a penny to the bottom of the pot because the rattling tells them the pot still has water.)
Layer the bottom of your steamer pot with some rehydrated corn husks then arrange your filled tamales open end up, cover it with aluminum foil and make a small hole in the center. Place the lid on the steaming pot and steam 60 to 90 minutes or until cooked through.
Check tamales after one hour by carefully removing one tamale and set it it on a plate. Let it sit for 10 minutes then try to unwrap, if it’s ready the masa will peel away from the corn husk easily. If not it sticks then the tamales need to steam longer. Allow to steam another 30 minutes before checking.
Make sure to check your tamalera steamer pot for water and if needed add more so your pot doesn’t burn!
How to Use Red Tamales Masa
You can use any of your favorite savory tamales fillings for this red masa. Additionally if there’s any leftover red sauce you can use it to cook your filling for extra flavor or save it to coat corn tortillas and make some enchiladas.
Most often this red masa is used for making corn husk tamales, but you can also use to make banana leaves tamales. I’ve tested it with both and it’s equally delicious.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we wrap things up, let’s address some common questions:
Can I use fresh masa instead of masa harina?
Absolutely! Fresh masa can give your tamales an even more authentic touch. Just adjust the amount of liquid accordingly.
Can I make sweet tamales with this masa?
No, only savory tamales are made with red salsa masa. I have a delicious sweet tamale recipe already on the blog and in my cookbook.
Can I freeze leftover tamale masa?
Yes, you can! Place in a freeze bag like a Ziploc and store in the freezer for up to three months.
Vegan Red Masa for Tamales
Congratulations, you’ve mastered the art of making red masa for tamales, vegan-style! Wasn’t that incredibly easy?!
Whether you’re preparing delicious tamales for a special holiday season or simply as a delightful meal, your friends and family are in for a treat.
Embrace the tradition of authentic vegan Mexican food, and remember, there’s always room for creativity when it comes to vegan tamale fillings. So, get ready to savor the deliciousness and share the love of vegan tamales with your loved ones.
Vegan Red Masa for Homemade Tamales
Red Chile Salsa for Tamales
- 2 whole dried guajillos chiles large wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
- 1 whole dried pasilla chiles small wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
- 2 whole dried arbol chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed adjust to heat level
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- 1/2 small white onion quartered
- 1 small roma tomato quartered
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
- water for boiling
Make The Red Chile Salsa
- Place clean and seeded chiles in a medium pot with the garlic, onion and tomatoes. Cover with enough water then simmer until everything is softened.
- Place the softened vegetables and chiles in a blender and add 1 cup of the boiling broth, the ground cumin and salt. Blend until you have a smooth salsa. Strain into a large bowl or container and set aside.
Make The Masa
- In a very large mixing bowl, whip the vegetable shortening until light and creamy.
- Pour in half of the masa harina, baking powder and salt and mix until you have a well combined mixture.
- Pour in 1 cup of the red chile salsa into the masa mixture and mix until well combined. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed.
- Little by little begin adding the remaining masa harina and pouring in vegetable stock or broth. Mix until you have a creamy, smooth and airy corn masa dough.
Masa Float Test
- Take a little bit of the whipped masa and drop it into a cup of water. It should float back to the top if your masa is ready. Read this article to find out what to do if your masa doesn’t float.
Assemble The Tamales
- Drain the hydrated corn husks, dry off with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to remove any excess water.
- Grab a hydrated corn husks and inspect the side of the husk to find the smooth side. The long side of the husk should be pointed towards the bottom and the wide toward the top.
- Using the back of a spoon, or a spatula, spread a couple of Tablespoons of masa onto the corn husk and spread into a thin even layer. Then add a heaping tablespoon or more of the filling into the center.
- Grab one side of the corn husk and fold it towards the center. Then grab the other side and fold towards the center. The long pointy end of the husk is folded up. Continue until all of the tamales filling is used up.
Steam The Tamales
- In a tamalera pot pour in enough water to the indicated line then place the steaming rack in place. (If you don’t have a tamalera you can use a large pot and steamer basket, or a pressure cooker or Instant Pot to steam tamales. Click here to learn how.)
- Place tamales in the tamalera, open end up, cover it with aluminum foil and make a small hole in the center. Place the lid on the steaming pot and steam 60 to 90 minutes or until cooked through.
- You can check tamales after one hour by carefully removing one tamale and set it it on a plate. Let it sit for 10 minutes then try to unwrap, if it's ready the masa will peel away from the corn husk easily. If not it sticks then the tamales need to steam longer. Allow to steam another 30 mintues before checking.
- Make sure to check your tamalera steamer pot for water and if needed add more so your pot doesn't burn!
Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…